Who is TunnelRat? We don’t know, you don’t know and it is assumed from court documents that New Jersey state Judge James Hurley does not know. TunnelRat is the pseudonym used by one of the defendants who recently had their websites shut down by Judge Hurley. As reported in the article on Censorship in New Jersey, the website ITGrunt.com was completely shuttered by Judge Hurley in response to a libel lawsuit brought about by Apex Technology.
TunnelRat has resurfaced in the form of http://techinsurgent.com which contains his previous postings as well as recent responses to the attempted gag order of Judge Hurley. The tenaciousness of TunnelRat, the audacity of Judge Hurley, and the critical nature of tangent topics involved certainly warrant further consideration of this masked blogger.
The initial firestorm was sparked by posts that allegedly libeled Apex Technology for abusive treatment of the H1-B visa program that allows the importation of foreign workers under the assumption that American workers of comparable skill levels cannot be found. The original Censorship article detailed Judge Hurley’s decision as it related to shutting down entire websites in response to individual posts targeting Apex Technology which relies heavily on h1-B workers and outsourcing work to off-shore facilities. This article is intended to explore the online persona of TunnelRat, and all facts are considered suspect.
According to available blogs, it appears the persona of TunnelRat evolved from an incident the masked blogger experienced in October of 2006 when meeting a fellow worker IT worker.
“Typical hot-shot young developer. Binary mentality (I am smart, therefore you are stupid). I could deal with him, I reasoned. I started to fell like a Tunnel Rat, being lowered into the hole to face Charlie.”
While the other worker may well have been named Charlie, most indications are that TunnelRat is also using a war reference. Research of his past blog postings indicate he served as a Marine, but doubtful that he is old enough to have served in Vietnam. References to his work experience, and attendance at a David Bowie concert, lead to estimations that TunnelRat may be in his early fifties.
The earliest postings available do not indicate any particular cultural disdain for Indians who heavily benefit from the H1-B visa program. TunnelRat even seems to expose an understanding of political correctness when he describes a co-worker as being gay, and then discounts any negative connotations with a reference to the infamous Seinfeld episode by saying, “..Not that there is anything wrong with that.”
His early blogs are dramatic narratives of happenings at work, and at a certain level, might be indications of some stifled creativity. These early posts reflect an element of the film Office Space with its collection of characters, and IT workers, subjected to the whims of corporate management. TunnelRat bestows nicknames on his co-workers, and usually injects enough negative comments. Burning Man, Mr. Whiteboard, and his nemesis Charlie are just a few names used to identify the cast of characters
The spring of 2007 sees TunnelRat showing signs of obsession with a focus on getting a fellow employee fired. The excerpt below reflects the dramatic style evident in many postings, and the facts, tone, and overall content must be viewed with the understanding that it may very well be a creative writing exercise with little basis in reality.
“How the f***k did these files get from my hard drive into the archives, I asked myself? I checked the version dates – they were three weeks old. I hadn’t touched those files since my first week. I sure as hell didn’t check them into a folder called “Documentations.”
Charlie had put them there. I was back in the tunnel.
He had hacked my hard drive. I was sure of it. Now I had something to nail him on. I’d show Mr. Whiteboard the evidence and I could get rid of this nasty thorn in my side. No more busting my balls – this little s**t was done.
I called my boss’ extension and got his voicemail. It was around 11:00 AM. Where the heck was this guy, I thought? I never saw Mr. Whiteboard before 10:00 AM. No wonder his staff was always UA (the Marine term for AWOL — I hate the f***ing Army and will only use USMC terminology here, unless I am referring to ‘Nam).”
The beginning of 2007’s summer has TunnelRat continuing to bemoan work. The blog postings are not excessive, but the detail and apparent passion further flesh out a man feeling stress. An older individual having to work with, and occasionally manage younger colleagues, TunnelRat’s managerial style occasionally shows shades of the character Michael Scott from The Office. Failed attempts at humor, inappropriate videos, and an overall lack of social skills are evident even as his posts mock colleagues for the same failings.
“As the my team huddled tentatively around the DVD player, I played the scene from Casino where Sam (DeNiro) fires the redneck running his slots. Classic DeNiro…I let the scene play out for a few more lines, and turned off the DVD.
Get your ass outta here! Godamn, I wanted to say those words to Charlie, and the TAC also. In fact, I wanted all of them out.
“Man, I love that movie,” I told the boys, smiling. They looked back at me, shocked. It was like I had just shown them a hard-core bestiality video….”
It was in this same time period that TunnelRat apparently got his wish with the termination of Charlie from his job, and his own termination swiftly followed. Perhaps TunnelRat, quoting from his wife, may offer some insight to his work situation:
“You get these jobs, they work you to death, and everybody you work with is an a**hole. Maybe you’re the one with the problem!”
TunnelRat’s obsession with H1B visa workers becomes more apparent over time and in February of 2009 he feels compelled to explain what some of his blog commentators describe as hate speech. TunnelRat describes an incident during the dotcom heyday when he was project managing a web development team and had to oversee an apparent H1-B worker. The incident is very anti-climatic.
“Later that day, the H-1B comes back to work (we worked literally side-by-side, no cubes, eight of us in a windowless scrum room), and gives me the stink eye. In his broken English, he tells me, in so many words, that if I have a problem, I should take it up with him. I could barely understand him, but his belligerence overcame the language barrier. And that f***ing stink-eye; it was like the guy wanted to throw acid in my face.
Speaking of acid, when the burn rate on the project got to be too much, they let me go with half a day’s notice. The firm was obligated to give my H-1B friend two week’s notice , so he ended up sitting around for a while longer, grimacing, fumbling with some code, and frowning at everybody else on the project until they shipped him back to New Jersey. There he probably sat on the bench, breaking the law until he could scam his way into another gig.
Thus began the hating.”
By the summer of 2009, TunnelRat’s blog reached new lows with obscene jokes concerning the death of young immigrant workers. He also communicates with a critic of his blog by sending,
“…some nasty responses to this clown, with pictures of dead Indians and other nasty things…”
It was in the beginning of December of 2009 that the situation with Apex arose leading to the lawsuit and Judge Hurley’s order to shut the website down. The same day the order came down, TunnelRat took steps to secure his online publications with the domain http://techinsurgent.com.
The Internet is often referred to as a virtual world, but the cyber world and the real world share many attributes. One cannot take at face value what they hear or read. TunnelRat’s vitriol for HB-1 visa workers may be sincere, or he may just be a sensationalist looking to bring attention to his cause. US corporations pressuring elected officials to increase the number of imported workers during the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression certainly should be examined for rationale and veracity.
Many in the IT world, and many unemployed, are quick to perceive TunnelRat, the masked blogger, as an American folk hero. Many others see him as promoting hate as he often uses racial slurs. His new found fame might earn him a comparison with Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine. The People vs. Larry Flynt, a movie starring Woody Harrelson and directed by Milos Foreman, told the story of Larry Flynt’s fight to protect First Amendment rights when sued by the Reverend Jerry Falwell.
Like Larry Flynt, people may find some of TunnelRat’s views to be offensive, but his First Amendment fight is certainly raising awareness over other important topics such as free speech on the Internet, and the debate over the H1B visa program in a country with ten percent unemployment.